A/N: So I probably shouldn't browse comment fic on Livejournal, because sometimes it is possible that I write random things instead of working. The prompt was "Elena/Damon, my last confession: 'I love you' never felt like any blessing." Takes place immediately after the season 2 finale.

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THE STARS GET RED (AND OH THE NIGHT)

If there's one thing Damon Salvatore is sure of, it's that he shouldn't be held responsible for stupid shit he said while he was dying.

The cure leaves a taste like roasted cayenne. The fire in all his veins is fading to a throbbing ache in his left arm. He reeks of dull copper sweat; the chill of it soaks his clothes, sets his hair to dripping in his eyes. He swings his legs off the bed and rises. Katherine is maybe five seconds gone - he can still feel her on his skin - but he lurches half a step toward the door and Elena whispers, "Don't."

Her face is full of doubt and her eyes are full of Stefan; still, her outstretched palm says 'not you, too.'

So he stays, like a dog at heel, and he closes his eyes and does his level best not to vomit. He likes this rug. He can't spare any more blood.

"Elena," he says.

She interrupts, "I don't," and "... are you okay?" There's something breakable and desperate in her voice. He recognizes it; the exact same tension is constricting at his throat.

Damon stands still, waiting for strength. He firms his shoulders, because Elena is watching him (and he's sneering at himself for doing things because Elena is watching him, but if he's a dog, he's Pavlov's). "Yeah," he says, belatedly. "Miracle of Saint Stefan."

"Don't," she says again, and he wants to snap I don't want your pity and he wants to sweep her up and kiss her (really kiss her) and okay, he wants to slice his fangs into her just a little bit. He is what he is.

(Memory: the taste of her. His teeth in her flesh, the hot rush of her blood, the scent of her tangled hair.)

(She even smells like Katherine.)

He doesn't think about crossing the room; he just does it, and he knows he's gone too fast because Elena's breath hisses and he has to rest a hand, unbalanced, on her shoulder. She's rigid but all he wants to do is shove her hair aside, stare at the clotting telltale wounds beneath the side of her jaw.

"It's okay," she says, and Damon doesn't say anything and he sure as hell doesn't meet her eyes. His thumb brushes against her neck. Elena shivers, and her fingers close around his wrist. They hold there for several tenuous seconds - he knows her stare is wide and wary. He fixates on the pulse in her throat, and the dried dark smudges of blood.

He remembers her face. His betrayal in her parted lips.

Damon drops his hand and turns away - the room is steady now around him. He is starving and wet. "We'll get him back," he states, simply. "Then I can kill him."

It's a flat joke; Damon blames it on his continuing urge to puke.

Elena twists her hands around that little glass bottle, crimson stains coagulating in the bottom.

"Sorry," he mutters, and he means it for a lot of things, and he would like to add, sincerely, that he really wishes he were dead right now. Silence hangs heavy and ungainly between them. Elena licks her lips, and Damon wonders if they taste of him. He adds, "Look -"

He doesn't know how to end that sentence. He's staring at her fingers.

"I'm going to take a shower," is what he goes with, finally. He suspects the sheer mundanity may kill him after all.

For a long moment, she doesn't respond. All he sees is her hand clenching. He wants to say I get it and look, nevermind and fucking Stefan and oh fuck, Stefan but every choice would shatter something. The air is too fragile.

Elena draws a breath, lets it out. "Okay," she says. The tightness is still there, but there's steel beneath it, and something else. "Actually - okay. But make some stupid innuendo about it, first."

Damon isn't sure he's heard her. "What?"

He's managed wittier responses. But he's startled enough to flick his gaze to her face, to the darkness of her even regard. He sees the concern but he can't tell if the crippling guilt belongs to both of them, or is just his own reflection.

"Make a joke," instructs Elena again. Her fingers are tight on the bottle. Her stare begs him, but she is offering, too.

A long beat passes before he understands, and - oh god, he adores her.

Damon straightens. He slicks back his disgusting hair with an almost-steady hand; he offers his best, most rakish smile. Maybe it's a little shaky. They both pretend otherwise.

"Three more seconds and I start stripping," he purrs. "Gonna scrub my back, or would you rather just watch?"

She blinks back salt wetness, but the corner of her mouth nearly quirks.

(I forgive you.)

He raises an eyebrow - familiar, mute challenge.

(I love you.)

Elena's sigh is sharp and put-upon. She rolls her eyes toward the ceiling - "God, Damon," - and turns precisely on her heel, flouncing (it is a distinct flounce) from the room. The scent of blood goes with her. He can hear her on her phone as she paces down the hall, the quick soft sound of her fingertips texting.

The night is thin and gratitude is a sucking, pathetic hole between his ribs.

A minute later, he's dropped a filthy pile of black and denim on the floor. Water streams down over his shoulders, burning, and Damon is still - so to speak - alive.

Elena's voice filters to him from somewhere downstairs. He can't make out the words, but the raw edge is clear.

He thuds his forehead against the ceramic tile, once, twice, methodical - but gently. He tries not to break anything more.